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Are Guaranteed Transfers Wrapping Themselves in Ivy?

Yesterday I wrote about the New York Times' coverage of Cornell's guaranteed transfer program, and mentioned that there's a couple more issues to address about the program, as well as the curious case of the Cornellian the Times decided to highlight.

Well, commenter Michael Alan beat me to the punchline questioning why the guaranteed transfer in question would attend a very expensive school like NYU, when any old state college would do.

But that's not all. Consider the reason why this student wanted to transfer to Cornell:

When Evi Nam applied to Cornell two years ago after graduating from high school in Concord, N.H., the first word she got from the university’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations was a rejection. “I was heartbroken,” she said.

A few days later, she received another message from the school: the offer of a spot the next fall as a transfer student, as long as she earned at least a 3.3 grade-point average at another accredited institution.

“It felt like a gift from heaven,” said Ms. Nam, who attended New York University for a year, earned a 3.8, and started at Cornell last fall. “It’s an Ivy League. I was singing when they gave me the option.”

To put it bluntly: If Ms. Nam's best reason for wanting to attend Cornell was our sports conference, and she's not a recruited athlete, perhaps she should reconsider her priorities. There are many excellent reasons to attend Cornell: it's excellent depth and breadth of academic offerings, the quality of the student body and the peers you will be learning from, the rigor of its academic experience and value that employers place on Cornell students, or its bucolic, inspirational setting.

But Ivy League sports should be pretty low on the list. And frankly, students at an institution of Cornell's caliber should be better able to communicate why they wanted to attend Cornell in the first place, especially a program as unique as the ILR School's. In fact, isn't that one of the main reasons for ILR to have the Guaranteed Transfer program in the first place -- to conditionally accept students who have a passionate interest in labor policy and employee relations, but who might be marginally less academically qualified? (Which seems to be the case given that NYU had similar concerns about Ms. Nam's academic abilities, although she ended up pulling a decent first-year GPA, and by all accounts is now doing well at Cornell.)

So please, let's stop wrapping ourselves in Ivy.

Then there's the issue of whether or not guaranteed transfers should purposely disengage themselves from their freshmen campus. It seems like a waste of a year's worth of social opportunities, if you ask me, but I can see how friendships can become thorny if you mention you're already planning on leaving. The Times picks up on this as well:

But life was not easy at N.Y.U., where, as fate would have it, she also missed the cut for standard admission. Instead, she was admitted to the university’s Liberal Studies Program, a two-year track for slightly weaker applicants, who are guaranteed enrollment in a bachelor’s program their third year.

Ms. Nam held off notifying N.Y.U. about her intention to leave until the end of her year there — and held herself aloof from campus life.

“I knew that I was going to be leaving in a year, so I didn’t want to make any BFF’s,” she said. “It put me in an awkward position. I had no connections with N.Y.U. — it was just a steppingstone for Cornell. A lot of people at N.Y.U. got jealous and cut me out of their lives. It was messy.”

For Cornell, what's a more significant question is whether or not guaranteed transfers feel like an accepted part of the campus community upon arrival on campus. I'll admit that while there's some healthy tension between transfer students and other students on Cornells campus, it's not an insurmountable problem, and a lot of Cornell transfers that I know actually end up making better use of their time on East Hill, appreciate of all of the wonderful resources that Cornell has to offer.

Hell, the last Rhodes Scholar Cornell produced was an ILR transfer, so it can't be all bad.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 11, 2011 (#)

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